How important is mental health awareness?

At a time where the importance of mental health is published across almost all media outlets, is this seemingly increasing awareness actually having an impact on improving people’s mental health?

From the amount of media attention that the topic is given, you may already be aware that in any given year, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health condition. Mental health conditions range in severity and duration between person to person, and everyone’s struggles are unique to them as an individual. That does not make any one persons’ struggles more or less valid, as all cause pain and suffering; otherwise they would not be called an illness.

The two mental illnesses mainly covered in the media are anxiety and depression. However, mental illnesses cover a much wider range of issues which are not well covered in the media. So, what about when you do not fit neatly into the box of a diagnosis of anxiety or depression, and those preached self-care and mindfulness techniques are not helping to treat the real problem?

What many people do not understand is that many mental illnesses are not preventable. For some, their illness is chronic and one that they will have to learn to manage for the rest of their lives. They can be alleviated in certain aspects by medication and therapy, but the illness will always be there as something that could flare up even when managed the best that that person can.

These are the areas where more awareness is needed. More coverage of illnesses such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Psychosis, Schizophrenia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Eating Disorders, Personality Disorders, Bipolar and all of their sub-types need more coverage. There is still so so much stigma associated with so many of these disorders within both the public and professional viewpoints, and this is almost ultimately down to a lack of understanding. Did you know that OCD is not just cleaning, organising and repeating actions? Did you know that personality disorders are not just people over-reacting to situations? Did you know that Bipolar is not just someone’s mood flipping from happy to sad? Did you know that most people with eating disorders are not underweight, and that weight is not even a symptom of most eating disorders? These are the kind of generalised and in most parts, incorrect views of many of the lesser talked about mental illnesses. So how do we start to extend the conversation around mental health to encompass these issues?

We are now beginning educating an entire generation about the signs, symptoms and importance of mental health and personal wellbeing both directly and indirectly (through the media). The inclusion of lessons on mental health, wellbeing and mindfulness in schools is a more direct approach at increasing awareness. Ten years ago, I did not have any of this form of education. I am now 24, but it took 10 years of suffering with poor mental health for me to realise that what I was going through was a mental health problem, and a further three years from reaching out to my friend and GP, to actually figure out what those problems are. I believe that if this awareness and active engagement with pupils to teach healthy coping mechanisms had been in place when I was younger that; 1. I would have been able to recognise some of the symptoms, and 2. Some of the issues could have been prevented or managed to a better degree by myself.

This is such a positive move forwards, and by helping to raise a more aware generation of people will encourage more open mindedness and support towards those who are suffering with mental illnesses. So whilst awareness cannot prevent the issues that someone is currently facing, in future it hopefully will help reduce the stigma to the extent that it would be as stigma free to go and get checked by your GP if you’re not mentally feeling right, as you would if you were not physically feeling right.

Awareness is important. But more is needed. We need to talk and listen more often, openly, honestly and without judgement. Only by doing so can we continue to move forwards in such a positive way that those struggling will be able to navigate towards the support that they need.

-Hannah x